Saturday 3 December 2016

Television: Nigella and Kirstie reign as the poor lose out again

John Boland

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

Nigella: 'Too much of a good thing can be wonderful'
Nigella: 'Too much of a good thing can be wonderful'

Ah, the joys of Christmas. While TV3 reporter Jerome Hughes was sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin, Russian billionaire Louisa was ordering tree-baubles worth £10,000 for her trendy Mayfair restaurant.

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Meanwhile, Nigella Lawson was having an orgasm over her slow-cooked black treacle ham, Kirstie Allsopp was getting all excited about kick-knacks and a London family was cheerfully reliving six decades of Christmas food and customs.

Of these seasonal exercises, the most boring - and stupendously so - was undoubtedly Kirstie's Handmade Christmas (Channel 4), in which the presenter asked us to get thrilled by the art of tree-dressing and by the contests she was overseeing in table-setting, gift-wrapping and jumper-knitting.

But at least that was just interminably dreary rather than positively obscene, this honour going to the same channel's The World's Most Expensive Christmas - its narrator breathlessly telling us that there were "more billionaires in London than in any other city" and then showing us what they did with their wealth at Christmas time.

One of the programme's guides was Frances of the London Concierge Company, which sources gifts for billionaires who are either too busy or too important to bother themselves with the tiresome task.

And so she went to a posh jewellers, who showed her an octopus-shaped bangle that lit up when you flicked a switch. Batteries, you'll be glad to hear, were included in the £450,000 price tag.

She also procured a USB port that masqueraded as a jewelled mushroom and that cost a mere £22,950, and she was quite taken, too, with a £1.9m necklace.

And while she was discussing such gift ideas in Russian billionaire Louisa's Mayfair eatery, we got to see the restaurant's most celebrated cocktail - a 19th century Armagnac blended with vintage champagne and with a gold leaf topping that can be had for £8,888 a glass, though if you asked nicely they might let you have it for £8,800.

Then there was Nigella, who started off Simply Nigella: Christmas Special (BBC2) in Kansas city, seemingly unaware of the mayhem currently being caused in Fargo by the Kansas city mafia. Nigella was there because "it's the fairylight capital of the world" and was therefore "fabulously immoderate" - much like herself, though she didn't say so.

She didn't need to, contenting herself instead with her usual preening, pouting and eyelash fluttering as she quoted Mae West's observation that "too much of a good thing can be wonderful".

Then, though almost as an afterthought, she got down to the preparation of her slow-cooked black treacle ham and her rainbow coleslaw and her bundt cakes ("a doddle to make"), while assuring us that Christmas was a wonderful time and was "much more than just one day".

That wasn't the view of Rochelle Robshaw, who in Back in Time for Christmas (BBC2) confessed that she wanted to like it "but the best bit of Christmas is when it's all over".

We had hitherto met the amiable Robshaws (father, mother, two daughters and one son) in the same channel's Back in Time for Dinner, an entertaining and informative series about the way in which eating habits have changed down through the decades, and this week's two-parter adopted the same approach to yuletide fare.

For instance, rationing in the 1940s meant that the Robshaws contented themselves with ox heart as a main course and with a pudding mainly made from carrots and potatoes.

Rochelle, of course, did all the cooking, as she did throughout most of the decades that followed - ham slathered in tinned peaches during the 1950s and turkey only making its debut in the 1960s, when factory-farmed mass-produced birds became the new norm.

And in that decade, ciggies were considered a suitable present for dads, while mums were still being reminded of their assigned household place by the gift of a hoover. Yet the Robshaws found something comforting about the customs, both culinary and social, of these less cynical if more spartan times. What they would have made of The World's Most Expensive Christmas can only be imagined.

The people encountered by Jerome Hughes in Homeless at Christmas (TV3) existed on a different plane, too.

Hughes set himself the task of living rough on Dublin's unforgiving streets, though he encountered decency along the way, not least from a priest who responded to his begging by giving him a €20 note to get him through the day and night.

He was, however, taken aback at life in the hostel he was booked into one night. He couldn't wait to leave the next morning and didn't return the next night.

At the end, though, he spoke of the generosity and kindness he'd encountered and insisted that "no matter how bad things get, there's always hope".

But to those who'd just watched his sobering film, that hope seemed forlorn.

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